While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it, gave it to his disciples and said, “Take, eat, this is My body” (Matthew 26:26). This is My body. Not being Catholic, I’m not one for transubstantiation, but this phrase, this is My body, still is heavy with significance. Jesus is about to eat His last Passover meal (Matthew 26:17); Jesus is sharing a meal and fellowship with the 12 people closest to Him (Matthew 26:20); He is about to be betrayed by one of those people (Matthew 26:21). It is interesting to note how the different translations describe Judas: The NIV makes it seem like his act of betrayal is in the future (“one would who would betray Him”); the NASB makes it sound like a current action (“Judas, who was betraying Him”); the KJV makes it seem like a past action (“Judas, who betrayed Him.”) The point is that Jesus offers His own body, His very self, to even a through-and-through betrayer. This is My body…even for the sinner.
During the fellowship of a meal, Jesus declares that the bread is His body – to me, this isn’t literal but means that whatever happens to the bread happens to Jesus’ body. First to note is that the bread is part of the meal already- Jesus does not get up to retrieve special bread; He uses what what was already nourishing them. In the same way, Jesus’ pre-resurrection body is nothing fancy – in fact, He had a body like ours (Luke 24:39). I love that Jesus uses ordinary, stuff-of-life bread to symbolize His body – it is not “spiritual” bread He is breaking and handing out to The Twelve; it is real, physical bread. Jesus’ body was a real, physical one. And it still is, albeit with some post-Ascension upgrades.
The next thing that happens to the bread is that it is broken – the correlation to Jesus’ body here is obvious. After the bread is broken, it is given to each of the disciples to eat, or take into themselves. Christ is for each of His disciples, for each to take into her or himself for Him to dwell. The Church is also called the Body of Christ; just as Jesus broke the bread for His friends, the Church is to be broken in service to God. This means that, just as whatever happened to the bread happens to Jesus’ body, so, too, whatever happens to the bread happens to the Church. We are to remember one another as Jesus commanded His disciples remember Him each time they break bread together (1 Corinthians 11:24). We are to nourish one another with real, tangible acts of service. We are to allow ourselves to be broken for each other.
There is some debate about whether the bread Jesus had at the Last Supper was leavened or not; since we don’t know for sure, I think the symbolism works either way. If the bread was unleavened, it might represent the unrisen, pre-crucified Jesus; if the bread was leavened, it might foreshadow the first Easter morning. “This is my body” is a way of affirming that Jesus is our daily bread, both in our “not yet” state of waiting and longing for the Promised Kingdom and in the resurrection of the dead to come, both where bread is needed to sustain life and when the Bread of Life will Himself sustain us, the bride His body was broken for, as the body He waits to join.